The swine flu virus first identified in Mexico cannot be contained, warns Dr Margaret Chan, director-general of the World Health Organization (WHO), as the economic impact of the outbreak continues to spread.
The virus is now so widespread, the focus should switch from containing it to mitigating its impact, said Dr Chan. Yesterday the organization raised the level of influenza pandemic alert from Phase Three to Phase Four; indicating that the likelihood of a pandemic has increased, but was not inevitable.
Meanwhile, in New York trading yesterday shares in Smithfield Foods, the world’s largest pork processor and Tyson Foods fell on fears that the outbreak will lead consumers to shun pork products. Smithfield shares fell by $1.28, or 12 per cent, to $9.04 and Tyson dipped 97 cents, or 8.9 percent, to $9.96, reports Bloomberg.
Fears of a collapse in pork consumption have prompted safety re-assurances from, Tom Vilsack, US agriculture secretary. Villsack said in a statement: “….let me say again to consumers, there is no evidence at this time that US swine have been infected with this virus.
“Second, I want to reiterate the same message to our trading partners - our pork and pork products are safe. The discovery of this virus in humans is not a basis for restricting imports of commercially produced US pork and pork products. Any trade restrictions would be inconsistent with World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) guidelines. USDA is working closely with the US Trade Representative's office on these issues.”
The National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) has confirmed that US pigs have not been infected with the virus and early investigations reveal that none of the people infected had contact with pigs.
Tyson Foods also acted swiftly to try to re-assure it customers: “Our pork products are safe,” it said in a statement. The company has no pork processing operations or pig farms in Mexico only poultry operations, it confirmed. “We are taking measures to tighten our existing biosecurity protocols to protect our hogs from this virus.”
Smithfield Foods has said that it has found no clinical signs or symptoms of the presence of swine influenza in its pig herd or its employees at its joint ventures in Mexico. The company confirmed that it has no reason to believe that the virus is connected to its operations in Mexico and that its joint ventures in Mexico routinely administer influenza virus vaccination to their swine herds and conduct monthly tests for the presence of swine influenza.
Yesterday, US soy and corn futures suffered their biggest one-day decline in over two months reflecting fears that a swine flu outbreak in North America was likely to undermine world meat consumption and demand for grain to feed animals.
China and Russia have banned pork imports from Mexico and three US states that have reported cases of swine flu. Similar action is expected from Indonesia.
An existing ban on meat imports from Mexico to the EU will continue, confirmed officials.
So far, the number of deaths in Mexico linked to the virus has reached 152, and cases have been reported in the U.S, Canada, Spain, UK and New Zealand.